Take 5: How to Take Charge of Your Professional Development
Skip to content
Careers Jan 2, 2019

Take 5: How to Take Charge of Your Professional Development

Kellogg faculty offer advice for every stage of your career.

mentor and protege discuss careers

Yevgenia Nayberg

Advancing in your career isn’t generally something that just happens. You have to strategize.

Here is a sampling of advice from Kellogg faculty to help you develop professionally, no matter where you are in your career.

1. How to Build Influence in an Organization

Think you need direct reports to have sway in an organization? Think again.

According to management and organizations professor William Ocasio, power in the workplace is about influence, not control. “It’s not about coercing people, but about mobilizing political support,” he says. After all, no one can realize their goals without a broad support base.

To that end, he offers some strategies for gaining and using political capital.

Build reputational capital early, he says. A good reputation generates endorsements, support, and opportunities. To that end, Ocasio recommends seeking out first assignments that are likely to end in success.

Additionally, make sure you can read your organization’s culture. Not all statuses, affiliations, or degrees are viewed the same way in all settings. Having a PhD, for example, might be viewed as a plus in one company but undesirably “pie-in-the-sky” in another, so choose to advertise yourself accordingly.

2. Learn to Negotiate Better

Plum assignments and promotions are rarely handed out from on high. One way to ensure you get the opportunities you deserve is to learn to negotiate better. Victoria Medvec, a professor of management and organizations, offers some time-tested strategies.

To start with, be prepared. It’s not enough to be able to present your own skills and experience—you also need to think through the other side’s needs. How can you advance your employer’s agenda while still getting what you want?

Then, lead the discussion. Contrary to widespread perception, research has found that people who make the first offer get better outcomes. “You will gain an advantage by creating the starting point, putting the right issues on the table, and being the one who frames the rationale,” Medvec says.

And offer alternatives. Having three potential plans to hand, rather than just one, makes it more likely that you’ll get what you want.

3. Learn by Being a Mentor

For those further along in their careers, an often overlooked development tool is becoming a mentor.

While it may seem like mentorship benefits only the protégé, the mentor stands to learn from the relationship, too, explains Diane Brink. Brink served as IBM’s Chief Marketing Officer for Global Technology Services and now works as a consultant. She is also a senior fellow and adjunct professor at Kellogg.

Brink has found that mentoring provides insights into both an organization’s political environment and the effectiveness of an organization in communicating strategy to employees at different levels.

“I might think it’s pretty clear from my seat, but then I might have a [mentoring] conversation and begin to appreciate the fact that, wow, this individual missed this aspect of the strategy,” she says. “That’s an important learning, because it helps me to be better at understanding what we need to do to make sure we’ve got the strategy in place.”

And there are skills to be learned, too. For example, Brink recently mentored a young woman who is a “digital native” with cutting-edge social and digital marketing skills. This relationship helped Brink keep current in a quickly evolving field.

“There was no way, in my role, that I could continue to stay apprised of all the new tools and techniques and applications,” she says. “Just by talking with her, it allowed me to stay current in an area that was interesting to me and essential to my role.”

4. You’ve Climbed the Corporate Ladder. What’s Next?

For some, rising as far as you want in your given career is wonderful. But it’s not the end of the road.

Perhaps you’re ready for a “second act”—a new professional phase during which you take the skills and experience you’ve worked so hard to gain, and apply them in the social or educational arena.

Take clinical assistant professor Ellen Taaffe, who spent more than 25 years in brand marketing before joining the Kellogg faculty, becoming an executive leadership coach, and serving on two corporate boards.

She offers advice for anyone interested in creating a powerful and satisfying second act of their own.

First, find confidence in your story, she says. Reflect on the larger narrative that got you to this point—in Taaffe’s words, “the thread that cuts across all your past experiences and explains who you are.”

And leaving one particular professional arena does not mean you should let your contacts there languish. Instead, keep cultivating your network. It will continue to open doors for you, she says, particularly when it comes to joining corporate boards.

Finally, be ready to adapt. Creating a second act is a significant change and often involves a lot of learning.

“Are you ready to be a novice?” Taaffe asks. “The clearer you are about being ready for this move, the more successful you’ll be.”

5. Self-Reflection Can Make You a Better Leader

Let’s say you’ve used your political capital and negotiating skills to land your dream job. There’s still plenty of room for growth.

One key way to achieve this is through daily self-reflection, according to clinical professor of strategy Harry Kraemer.

For 37 years, Kraemer—the former CEO of multibillion-dollar healthcare company Baxter International—has taken time each evening for a short period of self-reflection. That, he says, is how he avoided “running around like a chicken with his head cut off” while managing 52,000 employees.

Self-reflection is a terrific tool for defining priorities and holding oneself accountable to them, he says. It also allows leaders to ward off disasters by planning for every possible outcome and to build stronger teams by encouraging reflection in others.

Kraemer offers the following questions as potential prompts:

What did I say I was going to do today in all dimensions of my life?
What did I actually do today?
What am I proud of?
What am I not proud of?
How did I lead people?
How did I follow people?
If I lived today over again, what would I have done differently?
If I have tomorrow (and I am acutely aware that someday I won’t), based on what I do today, what will I do tomorrow in all dimensions of my life?

Featured Faculty

Senior Fellow and Adjunct Professor of Marketing

Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations

Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management & Organizations; Executive Director of the Center for Executive Women

William Ocasio was previously a member of the Management & Organizations faculty at Kellogg

Clinical Assistant Professor of Management & Organizations; Director of Women's Leadership Programs

About the Writer
Anne Ford is a freelance writer based in Evanston, Illinois.
Most Popular This Week
  1. 3 Things to Keep in Mind When Delivering Negative Feedback
    First, understand the purpose of the conversation, which is trickier than it sounds.
  2. Podcast: Workers Are Stressed Out. Here’s How Leaders Can Help.
    On this episode of The Insightful Leader: You can’t always control what happens at work. But reframing setbacks, and instituting some serious calendar discipline, can go a long way toward reducing stress.
  3. What Went Wrong at Silicon Valley Bank?
    And how can it be avoided next time? A new analysis sheds light on vulnerabilities within the U.S. banking industry.
    People visit a bank
  4. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  5. Will AI Eventually Replace Doctors?
    Maybe not entirely. But the doctor–patient relationship is likely to change dramatically.
    doctors offices in small nodules
  6. Leaders, Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Your Flaws
    We prefer to work for people who can make themselves vulnerable, a new study finds. But there are limits.
    person removes mask to show less happy face
  7. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  8. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  9. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  10. At Their Best, Self-Learning Algorithms Can Be a “Win-Win-Win”
    Lyft is using ”reinforcement learning” to match customers to drivers—leading to higher profits for the company, more work for drivers, and happier customers.
    person waiting for rideshare on roads paved with computing code
  11. When You’re Hot, You’re Hot: Career Successes Come in Clusters
    Bursts of brilliance happen for almost everyone. Explore the “hot streaks” of thousands of directors, artists and scientists in our graphic.
    An artist has a hot streak in her career.
  12. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  13. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  14. Take 5: Tips for Widening—and Improving—Your Candidate Pool
    Common biases can cause companies to overlook a wealth of top talent.
  15. Why Well-Meaning NGOs Sometimes Do More Harm than Good
    Studies of aid groups in Ghana and Uganda show why it’s so important to coordinate with local governments and institutions.
    To succeed, foreign aid and health programs need buy-in and coordination with local partners.
  16. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  17. How Peer Pressure Can Lead Teens to Underachieve—Even in Schools Where It’s “Cool to Be Smart”
    New research offers lessons for administrators hoping to improve student performance.
    Eager student raises hand while other student hesitates.
  18. How Much Do Campaign Ads Matter?
    Tone is key, according to new research, which found that a change in TV ad strategy could have altered the results of the 2000 presidential election.
    Political advertisements on television next to polling place
  19. Take 5: How Fear Influences Our Decisions
    Our anxieties about the future can have surprising implications for our health, our family lives, and our careers.
    A CEO's risk aversion encourages underperformance.
More in Careers